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Basic gear from mid-twentieth-century France

Discussion in 'History of Diving Gear' started by David Wilson, Dec 5, 2018.

  1. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Time for a new thread and a return from the southern hemisphere to the countries of Western Europe. Having covered early basic diving equipment manufacturing in my homeland, we are now taking the ferry across the English Channel to la belle France. I spent the "year abroad" of my British university modern languages degree course in central France in the late 1960s, a few months after the "May Events", the mini French revolution of 1968 leading a year later to the end of Charles de Gaulle's presidency. What is happening now in France with the "gilets jaunes" (yellow vests):

    echoes what occurred there some fifty years previously:

    French geographers often call their country a hexagon:
    Three of the sides are bounded by seas: The English Channel, which translates into French as "La Manche" (The Sleeve), towards the North West; The Atlantic to the West; and the Mediterranean towards the South West. The Mediterranean is the French underwater swimmer's principal theatre of operation and many of the country's earliest diving equipment manufacturers founded their businesses in the Midi (French Riviera) bordering the long inland sea, where they had spent their leisure hours during World War II spearfishing to supplement their meagre food supplies. Here is another map of France showing the location of the principal towns and cities:

    There were many diving equipment producers in France during the post-war pioneer decades. Two surviving French manufacturers in or near the Mediterranean port of Marseilles still offer traditional oval rubber-skirted diving masks: Beuchat (website: https://www.beuchat-diving.com/) and Sommap (website: http://www.sommap.com/ catalogue: http://www.sommap.com/upload/catalogue/catalogue-2019-sommap-light.pdf) . Sommap also continues to produce not only traditional snorkels with rubber mouthpieces, but also two traditional models of rubber fins. We'll eventually get to these two companies in this thread. The initial focus here, however, will be on early French diving equipment manufacturers who left their mark on the history of underwater swimming gear in France in the mid-twentieth century but were no longer around to witness the advent of the new millennium.
  2. АлександрД

    АлександрД Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Moscow, Russia
    I think you have to start from Louis Marie de Corlieu with swimming propeller

    and Émile Gagnan with CG-45
  3. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Our first port of call in France will be the French capital city of Paris, where "Hurricane" manufactured and distributed its range of underwater swimming equipment.

    The little booklet I have written about the Hurricane company and its diving products can be downloaded from https://drive.google.com/open?id=0Bw7z_4bLjOOES29yckplOXVZeEU, so feel free to download it and read ahead if you like. It's designed to be a reconstruction of a Hurricane catalogue, using information sourced online. If anybody can add any further information, please speak up! In this post, I am going to reproduce the introduction to my catalogue reconstruction.

    A drugstore now fronts the premises at 15 rue Clément Marot in the 8th arrondissement of Paris right at the heart of the “Golden Triangle” between the Champs-Elysées and Avenue Montaigne in the capital of France. Back in the mid twentieth century, however, this address housed the offices of Hurricane, a French company with a mission to transform post-war spearfishing equipment manufacture from a cottage industry to a commercial enterprise.

    Hurricane prospered for many years before the firm ceased trading in the early 1960s or thereabouts. A blog entitled “Palmes d’hier et d’aujourd’hui” (Yesterday’s fins and today’s) on the Lettre de l’Association du Musée Frédéric Dumas website simply describes Hurricane as “une grande marque de matériel de plongée des années 40 / 50, qui (a) disparu” (a major diving equipment brand of the 1940s and 1950s that has disappeared).

    Graphic designer Albert Dubout, who not only created cinema and theatre posters but also illustrated books by France’s literary greats, compiled the 1947 Hurricane catalogue currently featured on the “Mémoires de plongeurs” website. His artwork suggests that he had a good knowledge of both pre- and post-war underwater activities and possessed the wit and the skill to turn his image of the sport into caricature. He was also a wizard with words and may have coined the French verb “Hurricaniser”, meaning literally “to Hurricanise” in the sense of “using Hurricane spearfishing gear”.

    By the early 1950s Pierre-André Martineau, who was the brain behind Hurricane product development, had at least nine French patents to his name, six for speargun improvements and the remainder for mask and snorkel refinements. On his watch, the brand achieved the innovative edge not only in product design and technology but also in customer profiling. For instance, each model of Hurricane diving mask came with a choice of ordinary or shatterproof safety glass and in three different sizes to match the facial dimensions of men, women and children. Another example was the smallest Hurricane Record fin, which was embossed with the child-friendly slogan “Pour nager mieux qu’un poisson” (To swim better than a fish does) and fastened with an adjustable strap to accommodate foot growth.

    From the outset, Hurricane exported to countries where demand exceeded domestic supply. Diving historian Reg Vallintine recalls entrepreneur and British Sub-Aqua Club co-founder Oscar Gugen using “his knowledge of languages and business acumen to expand by importing ‘Hurricane’ swimming goggles and fins from France; the Dunlop company, who had manufactured the (wartime) frogmen’s fins, having decided that there ‘would be no market for them in peace time’. Soon Oscar was selling 300 pairs per week, mainly to Gamages and (…) Lillywhites”, which were key players of the day in the British retail and mail order sports equipment trade with large department stores in central London.

    Hurricane dive masks, swimming goggles, combined masks & snorkels and harpoon guns appeared in the mid to late 1950s underwater catalogues of major sporting goods suppliers Lillywhites and Cogswell & Harrison, which advertised regularly in the then British Sub-Aqua Club magazines Neptune and Triton. As for “Skinner’s handbook for skin divers”, the 1956 catalogue of Oscar Gugen’s partnership E. T. Skinner & Company Ltd., it carried a good selection of Hurricane masks and spearguns to complement its own Typhoon brand products. The close resemblance between the Typhoon Universal Ball-Valve and the Hurricane Automatique below cannot be pure coincidence:
    In 1959, the Société Hurrisport appointed South West Imports Limited of Vancouver as its agent general for Hurricane diving equipment within Canada (above). At the turn of the 1960s, Minetto of Milan and Rome was Italy’s sole distributor of Hurricane products. The Hurricane range of underwater swimming equipment now included the “Argonaute” mask with side lenses to increase visibility and the “Valvomatic” mask with built-in snorkel and ball-valve closure. Hurricane faded from view thereafter.

    With the benefit of hindsight, chroniclers might attribute the immediate success of the Hurricane brand to its early entry into the French recreational diving market when competitors were few. One glimpse of the Automatique ball-valve assembly head-harness might leave some people nowadays with the impression that Hurricane product designers habitually over-engineered solutions to ill-defined problems, even though a similar device, the “Marino”, appeared in the 1954 US Divers catalogue. Upon mature reflection, however, Hurricane may come to be fully appreciated for what it was: a trusted brand of its time with an international presence.
    HURRICANE - 1955.jpg
    I'll leave it there for today as I've given you plenty of information to digest before next time, when I'll take a closer look at the Hurricane range of diving masks.
  4. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Thanks for the "like", АлександрД.

    The order I've chosen to follow is dictated by the amount of research information I have accumulated and not by the strict chronological order of events, which I agree would suggest a start with Louis de Corleu's "propulseurs". I will be covering Louis de Corlieu as soon as I get to the Edouard Godel company, which was Louis de Corlieu's successor and which put his fin design on a commercial footing and then made improvements in them acceptable to the French military. It's the stuff of legend that de Corlieu's original fins were rejected by the French Admiralty during the 1930s even after he'd done a thorough demonstration of their powers. I'm leaving the matter of Godel - and therefore de Corlieu - to later because my information about the Edouard Godel company is relatively sparse.

    As for Emile Gagnan and Jacques Cousteau's invention of the aqualung, I'm going to leave that matter to others more knowledgeable than myself to post about. The title of the thread, "basic underwater swimming equipment" signals that I don't intend to cover breathing apparatus in these threads because I've only used breathing apparatus once in my life and therefore I'm ill-qualified by experience to write on the subject. I'm a lifelong vintage snorkeller. My principal non-personal reason for omitting this subject of scuba, however, is that the topic of double-hose breathing apparatus tends to dominate discussions on vintage diving forums and I'm determined to redress the balance a little by concentrating on masks, fins, snorkels and occasionally suits.:)
  5. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    On to Hurricane basic gear. We'll begin with masks. There's a fine example below of an enamel sign advertising Hurricane underwater masks:
    Such enamel signs command high prices nowadays, not least because they typify the best in mid twentieth century French advertising art.

    Hurricane diving masks came onto the market as early as 1947. It's worth quoting the advertising copy of the time because it not only conveys an attention to detail but also evokes what it must have been like back then to don a dving mask for the first time. I've translated the original French text for you:

    1. “Hurricane” diving masks. Made from special latex guaranteed not to irritate the face. Fitted with ordinary or shatterproof safety glass in 3 sizes to meet the needs of men, women and children.
    2. Underwater masks with special tinted filter glass panes (Patented by Hurricane). By filtering the sun’s blue rays, which are present in large amounts in the water, they ensure greatly increased visibility. The finer details of the seabed, which cannot be seen through an ordinary glass or pane, appear amazingly sharp and crisp when viewed through a Hurricane filter glass. Every Hurricane mask is supplied with ordinary, safety or yellow filter glass.
    3. Hurricane Masks with flange seals. A small recess surrounding the edge of the mask and applied to the face. This is the sensational refinement developed and patented by Hurricane. Women, whose faces are so delicate and susceptible to the slightest touch, may now wear a Hurricane underwater mask fitted with a flanged seal without doing themselves harm.

    I hope nobody's offended by the third paragraph, bearing in mind that it incorporates the attitudes of the world in general sixty years ago and immediate post-war France in particular. The world has since moved on.
  6. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Now for a review of each model in the Hurricane diving mask range. We'll begin with the "Grand Champ" mask. "Grand Champ" is French for "Large field (of vision)".

    Hurricane Grand Champ mask
    The name “Grand Champ” highlights the “large field” of vision this mask claims to provide. Known in England during the mid-1950s as the “Hurricane G.R.D.”, it is a heavily reinforced mask, which will withstand considerable pressure at great depths. Price: £2 1s 3d (toughened or yellow filter glass, Lillywhites, 1954); £2 1s 6d (toughened or yellow filter glass, Lillywhites, 1955). This model appeared in the 1947 Hurricane catalogue.
    Mantra, Compressor and Sam Miller III like this.
  7. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    The second Hurricane mask for review today is called "Tous Visages", meaning (suitable for) "All Faces".

    Hurricane Tous Visages mask


    The name “Tous Visages” highlights the comfortable fit this mask claims to give to almost “any shape of face”. Known as the “Hurricane T.V.” in England during the mid-1950s. Designed to provide a wide field of vision and a good watertight joint between the face of the wearer and the mask rubber. Will withstand the water pressure when diving to average depths. Deluxe finish. Adjustable head strap. Fitted with ordinary, toughened or yellow filter glass pane. Codes: D 1041 Ordinary glass; D 1042 Toughened glass (Minetto). Price: £2 1s 3d (toughened or yellow filter glass, Lillywhites, 1954); £2 1s 6d (toughened or yellow filter glass, Lillywhites, 1955). £1 18s 0d (ordinary glass, Cogswell & Harrison, Typhoon, 1956); £2 2s 6d (toughened or yellow filter glass, Cogswell & Harrison, Typhoon, 1956); £1 12s 6d (ordinary glass, Cogswell & Harrison, 1958); £1 19s 6d (safety glass, Cogswell & Harrison, 1958); £2 5s 0d (filter glass, Cogswell & Harrison, 1958).

    Here are a few images of an actual Tous Visages mask:

    Mantra and Compressor like this.
  8. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Third and last Hurricane mask for today is called Panoramic, which needs no translation.

    Hurricane Panoramic mask

    The Panoramic was billed as "Very suitable for women and people with small faces." A late addition to the range of de-luxe diving masks, combining a good watertight fit, a strongly reinforced rubber face piece with an exceptionally good field of vision with either ordinary, toughened or yellow filter glass pane. Codes: D 1051 Ordinary glass; D 1052 Toughened glass. D 1053 Filter glass (Minetto).Price: £1 18s 0d (ordinary glass, Cogswell & Harrison, Typhoon, 1956); £2 2s 6d (toughened or yellow filter glass, Cogswell & Harrison, Typhoon, 1956); £1 18s 9d (ordinary glass, Cogswell & Harrison, 1958); £2 5s 0d (safety glass, Cogswell & Harrison, 1958); £2 9s 11d (filter glass, Cogswell & Harrison, 1958).

    Some pictures of actual Panoramic masks:
    $_57a.JPG $_57b.JPG $_57d.JPG Hurricane1.jpeg Hurricane2.jpeg Hurricane3.jpeg

    More Hurricane masks in a few days' time.
  9. Sam Miller III

    Sam Miller III Scuba Legend Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: CALIFORNIA: Where recreational diving began!
    The Hurricane mask model "Grand Cham" was either copied or imported by Sea Net manufacturing company of Treasure Island, Long Beach California in the early1950s.

    Sea Net was located on an Island in Long Beach (LB) which due to extensive harbor renovations has disappeared from maps. Sea Net ceased operation in early 1954 due to the sudden death of it owner Pops Romano-- his heirs did not think there was a future in recreational diving so closed the operation down

    As I recall- my home is still in great disarray - so no access to Catalogs - but as I recall the mask was marketed as the 'UDT model mask.'

    One of the early tribe members wore the mask for many years always exclaimed it was the ONLY mask that comfortably fit him with out leaking. We never took him seriously when he also said 'When I can no longer dive with this mask I will give up diving " Some where around the later part of the 1950s his mask wore out and he never dove again.

    And that's the way it was ..

    Keep up the great work ! Certainly appreciated ! Often brings back so many memories !

    The two hose regulator is a Gasogen modification and was the original Aqua Lung not a G45 which was round and a production model .

    <<< I am down loading your brochure -- Is there a way I could obtain a hard copy ? >>>

    Sam Miller, III
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  10. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle


    Reproduced below the "Sea Net entry in the equipment appendix in the 1955 edition of the Carriers' "Dive".
    Here's a Sea Net ad for the Bull Frog mask mentioned in the Carriers' appendix:

    No mention so far of the Hurricane Grand Champ mask or a UDT model mask. I did, however, find the Grand Champ in the US Divers catalogue of 1954:
    It's listed with the stock code 1203. Note too the Squale mask at the top of the list of "imported French masks". The Squale was manufactured in France by a company of the same name and it seems to have found favour in the early 1950s with the US Navy.

    As for my online Hurricane catalogue reconstruction PDF, I'm afraid it is only available in electronic form. I find myself constantly updating these little brochures of mine when new sources come to light and so they never reach true completion.

    Thanks, as always, for the encouragement, Sam, and for the additional information about Sea Net, which was certainly a remarkable enterprise for its time and which even did its bit for World War II effort through training of Allied combat swimmers.
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